Phillies

Clearwater Chronicles: Notes, quotes, observations as Phillies spring training ends

Clearwater Chronicles: Notes, quotes, observations as Phillies spring training ends

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies departed their spring home on Friday and will make a brief stopover in Philadelphia before heading to Cincinnati to open their 135th season on Monday.

The goal of any team in spring training is to stay healthy and the Phillies did that. Now the rebuilding club will attempt to take another step forward, improve on the 71 wins it put up last season and find out which young players on the roster will be around for the long haul while giving a good-looking group of prospects another year to grow in the minors.

Here are a few notes, quotes and observations as the Phillies exit Clearwater and head for the regular season:

1. Starting pitching should be this team's strength. The five arms that the Phillies have assembled have the potential to keep games close for six innings most nights. But, with the exception of Vince Velasquez, who looks primed for something big, the starters' ERAs were high this spring. In particular, Aaron Nola had an ERA of 8.38. Jerad Eickhoff finished at 6.86 and Clay Buchholz at 6.65

"I choose to believe that it's just spring training," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Nola showed that his elbow was sound. His velocity was actually up a tick or two. But it's hugely important that he re-find the pinpoint command and ability to locate that made him special in college and special for his first 25 big-league starts.

A better read of this rotation will start Monday when Jeremy Hellickson gets the ball.

2. The Phillies' tight 40-man roster drew a lot of attention this spring and affected some decisions for the opening day roster. The Phils could continue to have tough calls with the 40-man roster during the season, especially if they need catching help and determine that prospect Jorge Alfaro, who is on the 40, is not ready. At that point, the Phils might have to consider bringing up Logan Moore and making a tough call on whom to lop off the 40-man roster. Ditto in the outfield. If the Phils needed a backup outfielder and didn't want to have a 40-man prospect like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams or Dylan Cozens play part time, they might have to look at adding Cameron Perkins, who had a nice spring, to the roster. Again, who goes? Tyler Goeddel would have been the first outfielder to come up, but he was designated for assignment, a move that took him off the 40-man roster and possibly out of the organization, to make room for Brock Stassi.

3. Freddy Galvis had a brilliant spring with the glove. His big test this season will be improving his on-base skills as he tries to hold off top prospect J.P. Crawford. Early in camp, Galvis bristled when he was asked about Crawford. From this perspective, that was a good thing. Maybe he's ready to dig in and make improvements. Internal competition is a wonderful motivator and it's good to see that Galvis isn't conceding anything.

4. Jeanmar Gomez had a terrific spring, allowing just four hits and one run over 9 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one. He will open the season as the closer, but Mackanin continues to use qualifiers like "for now." Clearly, Mackanin remembers the struggles that cost Gomez that role last year. And so it seems Gomez will be on a short leash.

5. Newcomer Howie Kendrick showed unselfishness at the plate, moving runners by clearly trying to hit the ball the other way. File that under a veteran who knows how to play the game and set a good example.

6. Maikel Franco's swing looked a lot more under control. We can't recall his helmet popping off once. This is a big year for him as he tries to prove that he is a player worth building around to a front office that already has its eye on coming free-agent markets.

7. The buzz coming from next door at minor-league camp was significant, as much as these ears have ever heard. There was lots of talk about the Triple-A team mashing the ball, about 18-year-old pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez's dominating performances (word is team officials had to slow him down a little), about the strides another big-armed prospect, Franklyn Kilome, has made, and about the way the ball jumps off the bat of Cole Stobbe, last year's third-round pick. The minor-league season opens Thursday, and it will be a fascinating five-month ride as the organization has real prospects worth monitoring.

8. Aaron Altherr scorched the baseball over the final week or so of camp. Everything seemed to come off his bat hard. He is really liking the adjustment he has made in his stance. At the suggestion of new hitting coach Matt Stairs, Altherr lowered his hands. Altherr says it has helped him see the ball better and be quicker to the ball. Back in 2010, when he was still playing, Stairs made the same suggestion to Jayson Werth, whose body-type is similar to Altherr's, and it helped him earn a huge contract with the Washington Nationals.

9. Second base prospect Scott Kingery was the talk of the first half of the Grapefruit League schedule, with Mackanin saying it looked as if the 22-year-old was on a fast track to the majors. But it was another 22-year-old second base prospect that stood out late in camp. By virtue of his being on the 40-man roster, Jesmuel Valentin, who is a month younger than Kingery, got to hang around until the final cut. He hit .366 with a .934 OPS. He will start at Triple A and Kingery at Double A. As stated above, internal competition is good and the Phils have some at second base. And lest we forget, Cesar Hernandez does not turn 27 until May.

10. Eickhoff made good strides with his changeup. It'll be interesting to see where that takes him as he looks to build on last season's breakout, 197-inning season.

11. One of the most memorable quotes from camp was provided by director of player development Joe Jordan, who, in talking about pitcher Drew Anderson said, "We have scouts who will tell you he might be our top pitching prospect." Anderson will open the season at Double A in a rotation that will include former first-round pick Shane Watson, who is back from injury and throwing in the mid-90s.

12. It was pretty sweet to see the reactions of Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi when they were told they'd made the club. Both of their dads played pro ball and topped out in Triple A, so there's a lot of joy in those households.

13. Entering camp, Knapp knew he had a chance to make the team because he was already on the tight 40-man roster. But early in camp, he did not look good at the plate. He started off 1 for 22 and was clearly pressing because he knew what was at stake. Once he got the vibe that he was going to make the club, his play improved dramatically, at the plate and behind it. He threw out four runners on the bases in the final week of camp, one with a hat tip to Valentin for a nice pick, and showed extra-base pop. He had a three-run double in the spring finale Friday.

14. Zach Eflin looks to be in terrific shape and could be poised for big things now that his knees don't hurt anymore. He had surgery on both of them in the fall to fix tendinitis issues. The Phillies will give him a few more weeks to build leg strength, so he will open the season on the disabled list before moving into the Triple A rotation.

15. Reliever Colton Murray had a tremendous spring. He gave up just two runs in 11 innings, held hitters to a .161 batting average and had a WHIP of 0.91. He was taken off the 40-man roster in October but will give the team something to think about if he continues to pitch well at Triple A.

Source: Phillies finalizing 2-year deal with Tommy Hunter

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USA Today Images

Source: Phillies finalizing 2-year deal with Tommy Hunter

Matt Klentak keeps adding to his bullpen.

The Phillies are finalizing a two-year deal with reliever Tommy Hunter, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury on Tuesday night.

The experienced right-hander will join veteran righty Pat Neshek, who is on the verge of re-signing with the Phillies, multiple sources said on Monday (see story).

Hunter, 31, has played for five teams over parts of 10 seasons. In 61 games (58 2/3 innings) with the Rays in 2017, Hunter posted career bests with a 2.61 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and .202 opponents' batting average, to go with 64 strikeouts and 14 walks.

(More coming...)

Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

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Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

Updated: 9:50 p.m.

ORLANDO. Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles are shopping Manny Machado for a trade.

The Phillies love Machado.

So the Phils will do the deal, right?

It's not that simple.

Machado remained a hot topic on Day 2 of the winter meetings Tuesday and the lobby buzz made it all the way to the Phillies' war room. General manager Matt Klentak would not take questions about any specific players — that would be a tampering violation — but he was posed with a scenario that would reflect Machado's situation.

Machado, 25, will be a free agent after the 2018 season. Therefore, he is under contractual control for just one more season.

So, Klentak was asked whether he would be willing to give up a slew of young talent — that's what it would take to get Machado — for a player under control only for a short period of time.

Klentak mulled the question. He covered all sides in his answer. But in the end, it sure sounded as if he would not be willing to pay the price to trade for a player like Machado. It sounded as if he'd rather roll the dice that Machado became a free agent in a year then try to get him for just money and not prospects.

"It obviously becomes more attractive to us if a player is under control for future years, plural," Klentak said. "If it’s a one-year contract before free agency, it’s less attractive. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t do it. I realize these are less notable players than what you’re suggesting, but we’ve done that with some bullpen and starting pitcher additions the past couple years to acquire a player on a one-year deal. It really depends on what the return is, what would we have to give up in exchange for that player, whether that makes sense to acquire a player on a short-term contract. The years of control matter.

"I think we have to be open-minded to those scenarios, but the scenario you outlined presents some challenges that make it less likely. But we’re open-minded to just about everything."

Any team that acquires Machado, a slugging left-side infielder, this winter would have to be granted a 72-hour window from the Commissioner's Office to hammer out a contract extension before the deal is consummated. Even then, the deal would cost a team prospects and money. Look for the Phillies to stay in touch with the Orioles and monitor their asking price throughout the winter. But clearly, the Phillies prefer to hold on to as many of their young core players and prospects as they can as they seek to acquire players who would propel them closer to the top of the National League East.

This doesn't mean the Phillies would not be willing to subtract a young player or two for the right talent. The Phillies are looking for starting pitching and sources say they've investigated the possibility of acquiring young, under-control pitchers such as Chris Archer of the Rays and Michael Fulmer of the Tigers.

The Phillies are likely to add starting pitching through a trade, possibly one that involves shortstop Freddy Galvis or second baseman Cesar Hernandez. A person with a club from a team seeking a second baseman was asked about Hernandez on Tuesday. The person said the Phillies were being more aggressive in their efforts to move Galvis than they were Hernandez. That does not mean Hernandez will not be traded. The Phillies have set an extremely high price on him because he has three more years of contractual control and that is very valuable.

The Phillies' need for starting pitching and their deep pockets have led to a connection to free-agent Jake Arrieta. The Phillies, as is winter meetings custom, met with Arrieta's agent, Scott Boras, but it's highly unlikely they would sign the pitcher because he will be 32 next season and word is he is seeking a deal that could approach $200 million. The Phillies don't believe they are far enough along in their rebuild to commit those dollars and the years it would take to get Arrieta. So don't hold your breath on that one (see story). If Arrieta is still out there in February and his price tag came way down, well, check back then.

"We've spent the last day and a half meeting with most of the prominent agents in the industry — a lot of agents represent players we're targeting and players we're not targeting — and I can understand why sometimes the connection will get made that may not be perfectly accurate," Klentak said. 

"We're very cognizant of the fact that we're a large-market team that has carried large payrolls in the past and does not have a lot of future commitments. We know this about ourselves, the agents know this about us, the fans know this about us. I think it's natural to connect the Phillies to players who are going to command a lot of money. 

"I've said this before: There will come a time where those connections will be accurate and we will spend again. For where we are right now, we are very committed to giving the reps to our young players and it would take a pretty special set of circumstances for us to deviate from that."

Klentak wants to improve the Phillies' "run prevention." It would be nice to add a starting pitcher — you can pretty much bet the Phillies will — but run prevention can also be addressed in the bullpen. Klentak suggested it was likely that the team would add another veteran reliever beyond Pat Neshek in the coming days (see story), and it is as the Phillies are finalizing a two-year deal with right-hander Tommy Hunter, according to a source Tuesday (see story).